How Kenya’s votes will be counted, and why transparency is so crucial
By Aly Verjee
August 4, 2017

Errors are commonplace in vote counts. What matters is how politicians
and election officials respond.
With tensions high in Kenya, a transparent vote count will be key to
avoiding disputes.

With tensions high in Kenya, a transparent vote count will be key to
avoiding disputes.

The shocking murder of Christopher Msando, which came to light this
week, casts a pall over Kenya’s 8 August elections.

As the acting director of information and communications technology at
the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Msando had
a key role in two critical aspects of the electoral process: the
biometric identification of voters at polling stations; and the
results management system, which aggregates votes once they’ve been
counted at the polling station level.

Both of these procedures are managed through the IEBC’s Kenya
Integrated Elections Management System (KIEMS). Technical experts have
expressed their confidence in the KIEMS, and the IEBC partially tested
the system on 2 August.

While a full system test ahead of election day remains necessary, as
recommended by international election observers, Msando’s death has
raised broader questions about the integrity of the technical
processes that underpin the election. Since a full murder
investigation will not be complete before polling day, rumours will
inevitably continue to circulate about the motives of the

There is little the IEBC can do to stop this speculation. However, in
order to reassure the Kenyan electorate and political competitors, the
IEBC could take further steps to demonstrate transparency.

It could release the results of the KIEMS test; it can ensure that it
fully publicises and explains its decisions in the coming days; and it
could share with political parties the IEBC’s contingency plans in the
event the KIEMS is not fully operational on 8 August.
How the count should work

According to current plans, votes are to be counted at each of the
40,883 polling stations after voting has closed. The results will then
be transmitted to constituency tallying centres in each of Kenya’s 290
constituencies via the KIEMS.

Due to a court ruling, the IEBC in Nairobi cannot modify the results
from either the polling stations or constituency tallying centres.
This means that a simple tabulation of the 290 constituency results
will produce the national results.

Representatives from political parties stationed at polling stations
and constituency tallying centres will know the results before they
are transmitted to Nairobi. If they are vigilant and professional,
these agents can make valuable contributions to the integrity of the
count and tabulation process.

IEBC has requested that party representatives check and agree that the
results entered in the KIEMS match those on the written results form,
though this is not required by law or regulation.
Mistakes are normal

Past experience, from Kenya and elsewhere on the continent, shows that
voting itself is likely to run smoothly, but that counting and
tallying may be more problematic.

By the end of election day, polling staff, party agents and election
observers are fatigued and feeling the pressure. Simple errors of
arithmetic may leave a ballot unaccounted for, requiring a second (or
third) count. Some political party representatives may be overly
boisterous during the count. Results forms may arrive at the
constituency tallying centres in varied states of completion.

[International election observation is decades out of date. I should know.]

All of these events are normal and to be expected. What matters is how
those competing in the election, as well as their teams and advisors,
respond in such circumstances. Amidst heightened tensions, it is often
tempting to see electoral malfeasance where there is only
unintentional error.

This is not to say that the IEBC will be beyond reproach or that
serious mistakes will not occur. But for all the pre-election day
drama, the real test in any maturing democracy is for leadership and
integrity to be demonstrated – by both election officials and
politicians – not only before the polls close but after. Kenyans
expect no less.

For more on Kenya’s elections, see:

    Kenya’s 2017 elections will be like none before. Here’s why.
    Kenyatta vs. Odinga: A study in contrasts
    How the young and restless could change Kenya’s political future
    Kenya: On the hopes and limits of Boniface Mwangi’s revolution
    Deaths, defections and deceit: How Kenya’s fake news spreads
    Why so tense? Kenya’s high stake elections explained

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